President Trump is not on the ballot in 2018, but the White House is planning a full-throttle campaign to plunge him into the midterm elections, according to senior officials and advisers familiar with the planning.

Trump’s political aides have met with 116 candidates for office in recent months, according to senior White House officials, seeking to become involved in Senate, House and gubernatorial races – and possibly contested Republican primaries as well.

Trump has told advisers he wants to travel extensively and hold rallies and that he is looking forward to spending much of 2018 campaigning. He has also told aides that the election would largely determine what he can get done – and that he expects he would be blamed for losses, such as last week’s humiliating defeat that handed an Alabama Senate seat to a Democrat for the first time in 25 years.

“For the president, this isn’t about adulation and cheering crowds,” White House political director Bill Stepien said in an interview. “This is about electing and re-electing Republicans.”


But getting deeply involved in the midterms could be a highly risky strategy for a president with historically low approval ratings, now hovering in the mid-to-low 30s in many national polls, and might be particularly disruptive in primary contests pitting establishment candidates against pro-Trump insurgents. Last week’s upset in Alabama – where Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican nominee Roy Moore – came after Trump endorsed two losing candidates in both the primary and special election.

Many Democrats also say they relish the idea of being able to run against Trump.

“He absolutely is turbocharging the opposition. My guess is most of the people running for office in 2018 are not going to want to cleave too closely to him,” said David Axelrod, former President Barack Obama’s chief strategist. “He torques up both sides, but he torques up the opposition more. He is the greatest organizing tool that Democrats could have.”

Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors’ Association, said “we look forward to everything that comes out of the president’s iPhone.”

In coming months, Stepien is planning nearly daily meetings with potential candidates from around the country and aims to give Trump endorsement recommendations by the spring, officials said. The White House is also working with the Republican National Committee to discuss the strongest fundraising opportunities for Trump, they said.


Stepien meets with Trump weekly to talk about the 2018 slate, poll numbers, candidates, their issues and their level of agreement with Trump, and he also regularly convenes with Chief of Staff John Kelly and other senior aides on the midterm outlook, officials said. Trump, senior officials said, has shown particular interest in certain races, including Republican senatorial candidate Josh Hawley in Missouri and the possibilities of Senate bids by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and Gov. Paul LePage of Maine.

On Saturday, Trump’s campaign sent out a “2018 candidates” survey to supporters on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to Trump’s call for a wall along the Mexican border.

But fundraising has been hurt in some quarters under Trump’s presidency, posing a financial challenge for a party increasingly spread thin in defending potentially vulnerable seats in the House and Senate. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, for example, has only raised about $2 million a month for the last four months and is spending more money than it is taking in. The White House has grown concerned about the anemic fundraising, according to one political adviser; committee officials declined to comment.

Trump himself has proven a prodigious fundraiser when he wants to do it, and advisers say he may share his valuable donor and supporter database with favored candidates.

There are other risks for Trump on the campaign trail. The president frequently wanders off topic at rallies and often prefers to talk about himself, sometimes generating new controversies and making the candidate a sideshow at best. But the president can also draw a crowd like few other Republicans can.


Chris Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend, said the president needs to work to broaden his appeal ahead of the midterms.

“President Trump deserves far more credit for his accomplishments, but any president who has those types of numbers loses the House and the Senate,” Ruddy said, referring to recent polling. “He must move to the center. He must be the old Donald Trump – the bipartisan dealmaker who is looking for consensus.”

Trump’s political team downplays popularity concerns and says candidates are lining up to get in the door, particularly for Republican primaries.

“To say the president has shaky political standing, I’d say the pollsters, the experts, the pundits have never figured out how to poll this guy,” Stepien said. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon remains another wild card as he pledges to continue backing anti-establishment candidates like Moore. In Nevada, for example, Bannon has told others he will help raise money for Danny Tarkanian, an insurgent candidate with a controversial past planning to challenge Republican Sen. Dean Heller, while Trump has yet to make a commitment.

Some consultants say the White House’s political team doesn’t have the influence to secure decisions from Trump and some fear that much of the midterm campaign will hinge on his unpredictable moods.

Still, some Republicans say they have recently seen improved communications with the White House. Trump has patched up his fractious relationship with McConnell for the most part, advisers say, and the political team has been given more leeway under Kelly.

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.